MIDWAY, Utah — LDS filmmaker Kieth Merrill says

he picked the background for "The Testaments" by default, and if he had

it to do over, he would have sought locations in North America rather

than Central and South America.

Speaking Friday at the Book of Mormon Prophecies Conference at the

Zermatt resort, Merrill said he believes evidence supports a North American

backdrop in the "promised land" for the Book of Mormon stories, wars

and visits from Jesus Christ.

"I know that the Book of Mormon is true. I can't say I know where it

all took place," Merrill said as he addressed a packed house as the

conference's keynote speaker. "I'm the guy who made the biggest, most

expensive film (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has

ever made, and I put it in the wrong place."

Merrill said the common notion that the Mayan and Aztec peoples and

other such civilizations known to have lived in Central America during

Book of Mormon history influenced his choice of jungle location. (He

ultimately filmed "The Testaments" on the Hawaiian island of Kauai

after roaming the jungles of the Yucatan.)

"I can't wait to redo the movie and put buffalo in it," he said.

Merrill said his mental map has been altered by DNA experts who are

not finding hard evidence that the Book of Mormon people ever lived in

Central America and by researchers such as Rod Meldrum, the author of

the new DVD "DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography." Meldrum and

other researchers argue that the Nephites and Lamanites lived in the

same basic area of the United States where the LDS Church was founded.

Merrill said when he was asked to make the new film about Christ,

LDS Church leaders never designated where to film. In fact, President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency at the time, told him specifically not to shoot

footage with recognizable landmarks in the background for fear church

members would assume that whatever landscape was portrayed would be

accepted as the prevailing truth.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made no

official statement. Therefore, every statement, every idea you hear

about today, is simply a theory," Merrill reminded his audience.

"I went with the default location," he said. "My comfort zone was

that the book is true and it doesn't matter where it took place. But

looking north instead of south has allowed me to see the drama in a

whole new way. It's like I'm now seeing it in 3-D digital. It's

exciting."

Merrill said members of the church shouldn't get overly exercised

about the specifics but remain open-minded and centered on truth.

"To the honest in heart, there is nothing at stake here," he said.

"If you remain skeptical, may I suggest a re-reading of the Book of

Mormon and see if you don't discover a new perspective."


E-mail: haddoc@desnews.com